Three different ways to play
The Nintendo Switch is a “hybrid” console that can be used at home on a TV, and also as a portable console similar to Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS lines. Players can change between the console’s home and portable configurations on the fly, too, hence the name “Switch.” Transitioning between these mode is remarkably simple, and the most you have to do for the Switch to register a screen change is press the L and R buttons simultaneously. Simply placing the Switch into its dock will turn the system on, and the default settings even allow the Switch to automatically turn on your TV.
All of the processing power in the Switch lies within the tablet portion of the system, with an HDMI-connected charging dock, and a pair of Joy-Con controllers that can be removed from the sides of the console. This unique configuration allows the Switch to adopt a number of different form factors for both single and multi-player games. Its traditional control scheme — split across the two controllers — features the classic “A-B-X-Y” button cluster, as well as a “d-pad” that actually features separate buttons, two analog sticks, a “home” button, a “share” button, and “plus” and “minus” buttons.
You can play with the Joy-Cons attached to the included Joy-Con grip for a more traditional control scheme, but with the simple press of two buttons, the Joy-Cons detach from the grip, allowing you to play with one Joy-Con in each hand, or even with a single Joy-Con (used like a Wii remote). The Joy-Con straps assist and add comfort to the free-form control schemes by adding SL (Shoulder Left) and SR (Shoulder Right) bumper buttons.
The Joy-Cons have a more fine-tuned range of controls than Wii remotes. The HD rumble makes the Joy-Con controllers feel as if marbles are rolling around inside of it, which allows for a more precise motion-based experience than the the Wii.
Nintendo also showed off the Nintendo Switch “Pro” controller ($70) during the system’s official unveiling. It’s shaped similarly to the Wii’s “Pro” controller, but the analog sticks are placed asymmetrically in a similar fashion to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
The Switch’s built-in LCD screen provides two different modes of play: Tabletop mode and handheld mode.
Users who want to play local multiplayer games away from home can detach the Joy-Con controllers from the sides of the Switch, and turn them sideways to become two discrete “classic” controllers similar Nintendo’s Wii remote. A kickstand on the back of the Switch, which also doubles as a cover for the microSD slot, also lets the console stand up on its own, which will allow for players to use a more traditional control scheme if playing alone — without having to touch the system itself. The kickstand feels remarkably cheap, however, and we would recommend investing in a third-party stand if you wish to use the system this way.
Each Joy-Con has a camera and motion detection, too. The right Joy-Con is even equipped with an infrared motion camera that’s designed to detect distance and even discern simple hand-gestures, like telling “Scissors” from “Rock” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The left Joy-Con controller also features a “capture” button, which allows users to share screenshots with the touch of a button, and even make silly image macros.
This mode is essentially a Wii U controller you can take with you anywhere. The Joy-Con controllers snap to the sides of the tablet, rendering the device a portable handheld. It’s about the same size of the Wii U controller, too, though a bit less bulky.
The Switch’s portable display pulls double-duty as a multi-touch screen, much like the Nintendo DS. That was a big part of the design philosophy behind the Switch, according to Nintendo: To build on the legacy of all past consoles.
The touchscreen uses Immersion’s haptic technology, but is only be utilized in-game when in tablet mode with the Joy-Con controllers detached. The touchscreen is capacitive, meaning it is capable of registering multiple finger presses at once.